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Agadir, Morocco

AGADIR, Atlantic seaport and important tourist resort in southwestern Morocco; the site of the ancient Roman Portus Risadir. It lies near the Haha province and the Sous, the latter region having served in past centuries as an important marketplace (suq) on the fringes of the Sahara Desert. Because Agadir was strategically located on both the Atlantic seaboard and near the Sous Valley, it became a vital trade depot for European and local merchants. Important caravans passed through Agadir into the Sous from the earliest times to the 19th century. They brought African slaves, gold dust from western Sudan, and ostrich feathers from the southern Sahara Desert. Textile products and leatherwork from *Marrakesh also found their way to the Sous through Agadir, as did European medicines and guns.

In the latter half of the 15th and early 16th centuries the Portuguese penetrated Morocco – then ruled by the Wattasid dynasty – and took control of the coastal areas. In 1505, they occupied Agadir and held on to it until 1541, when the new Saʿdian kings of the Sous, who then founded the Moroccan Sharifian Saʿdi dynasty, liberated the city. Under the Portuguese occupation and subsequently, Agadir and the Sous attracted Genoese merchants who traded in Sudanese gold and in local products like wax, hides, gum, and indigo.

Agadir's importance as a trade/transit route reached its zenith in the 1760s. Until then the trade activities of the local merchants, many of whom were Jews, gained considerable support in Moroccan ruling circles. In 1764, however, that city lost out to the new port of Essaouira ( *Mogador ), which was constructed by the Sharifian Alawite sultanate with the aim of replacing Agadir as the outlet for the Sous trade. Essaouira then became the most important port in Morocco until the end of the 19th century.

To attract merchants from different parts of Morocco to Essaouira, including Jewish entrepreneurs, known as tujjar al-sulṭān ("Sultan's merchants"), the makhzan (governmental administration) built, or allowed the merchants to build, houses, extended credit, and lowered customs duties for the new arrivals. Not only did prominent Jewish merchants from Agadir relocate to Essaouira, moving their businesses to the new town, other members of the Jewish community settled there permanently.

Agadir captured the attention of European diplomacy during the colonial period, as Morocco was about to be divided into French and Spanish protectorates. At the time, local Moroccan opposition culminated in revolts against the French. France responded by sending an occupation force to *Fez in May 1911. Germany, which then regarded itself as a serious contender for influence inside Morocco, saw in French aggression an effort to curtail Moroccan independence and sought to challenge it. In a veritable show of force and under the pretext of "protecting our interests and the safety of our citizens," the Germans dispatched the gunboat Panther to the shores of Agadir (July 1911). It was done with the clear intent of pressuring France to reduce her territorial aspirations in Morocco to a minimum. In November, a Franco-German accord was signed. The agreement stipulated that the Germans would not oppose the imposition of a French protectorate over Morocco in return for some French sub-Saharan territories to be ceded to Germany. Two years later the French were in full control over Agadir.

Under the French Protectorate (1912–56), growth in Agadir began with the construction of a major port (1914), the development of the Sous plain, and exploitation of inland mineral resources as well as the fishing and fishing-canning industries. After the 1930s, the French turned Agadir into an attractive tourist resort and encouraged extensive urbanization, laying the groundwork for modern infrastructures.

Agadir has also known tragedies. Early in March 1960 two earthquakes, killing 12,000 people, destroyed the city. Among those killed were several hundred persons belonging to Agadir's 2000-strong Jewish community, buried under the rubble of the collapsed buildings. As many as 800 Jewish survivors were lodged temporarily at an army base on the outskirts of *Casablanca. After prolonged negotiations with the authorities, the Casablanca Jewish community took many refugees into their homes. Orphans whose parents were killed in the earthquake were adopted by Casablanca's leading families. A new central city, including an international airport, was built in the 1960s to the south of the old town, linked by road with *Safi and *Marrakesh . As many as 110,000 people subsequently lived in Agadir; few among them were Jews.


J.M. Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period (1987); E. Burke III, Prelude to the Protectorate of Morocco: 1860–1912 (1976); P. Guillen, L'Allemagne et le Maroc (1967); C.-A. Julien, A History of North Africa: Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco from the Arab Conquest to 1830 (ed. and rev. by R. Le Tourneau, 1970); C.R. Pennell, Morocco since 1830: A History (2000); D.J. Schroeter, Merchants of Essaouria: Urban Society and Imperialism in Southwestern Morocco, 1844–1886 (1988).

[Michael M. Laskier (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.